Pearl Jam's first, and most iconic album is called Ten; their new record, Lightning Bolt, is album number ten. A rock band that made 10 albums over 20-plus years; it's a recipe that could be synonymous with staleness. So I was genuinely surprised when I put the record on, and the first track, "Getaway," didn't sound corny, moldy, or even embarrassing. It sounds ... fresh.
Pearl Jam is the grunge band that survived, the one that has kept healthy and steady. They were never as good as Nirvana, of course, or as interesting as Mudhoney, the Melvins, or Tad. However, Pearl Jam is still here, and they keep true to what they do best, which is guitar-heavy rock.
The guys in Pearl Jam are album-makers of the old variety: a rock record should have a dozen tracks; it should open with a banger; the second song should be less accessible than the first; the middle song should be an acoustic jam; the final song should be an epic ballad. Check, check, check. Lightning Bolt follows all these principles.
As previously noted, the first half of Lightning Bolt is solid. "Sirens" is the best track; an ultra-melodic power ballad which fits Eddie Vedder's testosterone-filled voice well. During the second half, starting with the boring and slow jam "Pendulum," the intensity fades, and the heavy riffing gives way to Dad Rock. "Sleeping by Myself" is a funny track, sort of a folk pop song, which must be given a point at least for trying something new.
Eddie Vedder might be old and uncool, but all he and his band are trying to do is to write honest songs about being grownups, and they do it with dignity. Thinking back on how the 80s treated many rockstars of the 60s, Pearl Jam's 20-something anniversary album as a rock band is a success. Good on Pearl Jam for pushing themselves to write quality songs even at this stage in their career.